In a few hours from now, the Pittsburgh Pirates will embark on the 2021 season. This will be the first full season of the Ben Cherington-Derek Shelton regime. The predictions for this season are dire. One headline read, the Pirates embark on their 2021 season, and they are going to be terrible. One person on MLB Network predicted they would lose 115 games, which would be one of the worst seasons in Pirate history. This is all because the Pirates are on the rebuild, or are they? When pressed about this, Ben Cherington has refused to say the word rebuild, and nobody seems to notice. If the Pirates are rebuilding and/or tanking, why didn’t they get rid of everybody. They only made 3 trades, and yes, they added a lot of prospects, to the point, that they have moved into the top 10 of minor league systems. But they still have Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, Gregory Polanco, Jacob Stallings, Erik Gonzalez, Richard Rodriguez, and Steven Brault. With the exception of Polanco, all of these players have value, and would have brought even more prospects to the team. The one excuse that is made, is that these players will have more value at the trade deadline, and will bring even more prospects, as the Pirates languish in last place in July and August. The other reason given for such a poor season this year, is how bad the Pirates were last year. They had a record of 19 and 41, which would compute out to 51 and 111 for a 162 game season. In my view, the Pirate management looked at last season as a lost season, anyway. Instead of trying to win games, management decided to evaluate talent for 60 real games, and I think they succeeded. During the 60 game season, they played players all over the place, and used a different batting order, almost everyday. This led to some surprising cuts at the end of spring training. The most surprising in my view was Geoff Hartlieb. He has looked very good at times, and last year had an ERA+ of 127. Obviously, at least for right now, the Pirates feel they have better options in the bullpen, than Hartlieb. The same thing can be said for Edgar Santana, another pitcher with decent major league experience and an ERA+ of over 120,the last 2 years that he pitched. Not putting Cole Tucker and Todd Frazier on the opening day roster, is significant. What kind of season do I think the Pirates are going to have?
I think this team will play right around .500 baseball, and with any luck will finish with 85 wins. Now things won’t have to be perfect, for them to do this, but a few things will have to break their way. The rotation is very thin, and they will have to avoid any more serious injuries, like what’s happened to Steven Brault. He looks like he may be able to return in June, but who knows. The infield is solid and hopefully will have some improved hitting from Frazier and Newman. Moran at first base may be a disaster, but I think Phillip Evans may wind up as the regular first baseman, and Todd Frazier may come up and fill some of that void. Hayes at third, will be solid, no matter what he hits, and hopefully he reaches full potential this year. The outfield does not have a lot of depth but again Evans and Adam Frazier can fill in there, but I hate to see Frazier move off 2nd base, where he really seems to have found a home. Hopefully, Brian Reynolds can get his hitting stroke back, and I am confident he will. Then there is Gregory Polanco, the 11 million dollar man. Hopefully he does not run into anybody and end their season like he did last year. Since 2014 he has had 3 decent seasons for the Pirates and 4 horrific seasons either due to poor play or injury. He practically destroyed his body, sliding into second base in 2018, and has not been the same since. He has become the project of the Pirates hitting coach, Rick Eckstein. If Polanco can stay healthy and have a 2 to 3 WAR season it will go a long way in helping the Pirates, be a competitive team. The bullpen should be solid, and it will be interesting to see how Shelton handles the various arms, and how the Pirates are able to finish close games. I think one of the biggest keys, will be if Richard Rodriguez can develop into the main high leverage guy, and if he doesn’t who will. We will all see what happens with this young Pirate team. Every 10 games I will do a blog on how the season is going. I watch every game they play when televised. I also watch the game with no sound. I am not going to listen to Joe Block, ask questions, that my grandson would ask, who is just learning the game. Could this season be one where they might lose a record number of games? Maybe, but I do not think so. See you at the 10 game mark. HAPPY OPENING DAY! Let’s go Bucs!